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|A Visit to The Basingstoke Canal|
This was the first time we have taken Corinna to the Basingstoke Canal which is surprising as we live fairly close and have been past the end on the River Wey several times. It is a lovely canal but, like many, chronically short of water - it is not unusual for it to be closed to visitors from mid May to November. Shortage of water is not a new - in its hey day the canal only had an average of 4 movements a day and was not a great commercial success. You have to obtain a license and book your passage onto the canal in advance as a ranger accompanies each group of boats up and down the flights onto the canal. There are 28 locks total on entry and it is normal to spend two days going up following an over night on the river Wey - it is not possible to enter the Wey and get to the Basingstoke before the first flight at Woodham closes. On the way back it is possible to get back to the Thames on the second day.
There were plans and some funding in place for back pumping but the canal has a major problem with SSSIs and the boat movements on the summit have now been so restricted to protect a rare weed that the funding bodies are alleged to be pulling out from funding the back pumping. 600 volunteers and 20 years of effort is apparently a small price to allow a water-weed to flourish until the canal once more degenerates due to lack of use!
Our trip on Corinna took a fortnight including the time down and up the Thames - next time we will add a week license on the Wey rather than just having a transit license. The 8 days on the Basingstoke was about right and allowed us to spend a leisurely 4 days on the 20 mile summit (actually there is one lock) and meet up with friends in the area - if time is short three days would be sufficient.
The first day was a long one down to Windsor. We met up with Crayfish, another boat from the David Piper Owner's Club on the way down - they were just returning from the Basingstoke where they had enjoyed themselves greatly. We moored as usual on the Eton meadows, one of the few places we ever have to pay for mooring. We were a bit slow in rushing off to the Hogs Head! The Hogs head has a good selection of real beers including their own Abroad Cooper, now specially made for them by Breakspears. There are now a chain of Hogs Heads - we were first introduced to one in Skipton by Ken Cook when we were working across the Leeds and Liverpool on the 1997 David Piper Owners Club cruise. We then had a very good meal in the Mexican Cantina which is in the arches under the railway station. It is now quite difficult to find but worth the effort - a bit expensive after NZ but we have never been disappointed. The next day was short to Leylam where there are some Thames Conservancy 24 hour free moorings conveniently placed to be ready for the Wey.
There are more Conservancy moorings as you turn to enter to the Wey and we found Trelawney moored there - Brian and his wife have lived on her for 7 years since he retired as Osney lock keeper. He has now commissioned a new wide boat for the French canals so we will not see them about so much after next year. The Wey is owned by the National Trust and one needs a license - second only to the Bristol floating dock in costs but they do, as a concession, have a very reasonable transit license to the Basingstoke at 6 pounds return. The first lock is manned and has a strange arrangement with an extra gate and entry pound because the clearance over the cill is only just over 2 foot when the Thames is at nominal levels. There are then 3 more locks on the way to the Basingstoke, including the one at the Papercourt Mill.
The first day on the Basingstoke we worked our way up the first three flights of locks mooring above the short flight of 3 at Brookwood. You are expected to complete at least the first two flights on day one and the remainder on the second day. The locks are quite slow to operate being wide and with small ground paddles - you can open them straight up without problems but they are so heavy you really need a long handled Wey style windlass. We were following another pair of boats who were very slow so we took nearly 6 hours for the 14 locks. You are also expected to drain the locks unless a boat is expected the other way - the Ranger then comes and seals all the gates. We were also requested to close the top ground paddles before swinging the gates open against them to avoid pushing rubbish into the paddle gear - very sensible but I have never heard anyone suggest it before. The moorings above Brookwood are reasonable and it is better to stop there rather than travel on to the bottom of the final flight of 14 locks at Deepcut. You can also get to a big Savacenter from Brookwood bridge at the bottom of the flight - just walk for about 7 minutes towards the East (Knaphill direction) and it is at the first crossroads.
The Deepcut locks seemed to go much quicker as they are very close together so it was easier to work ahead. They must also be one of the most beautiful flights of locks in the country with tree lined banks and many flashes where the canal was taken through existing pools. The barracks and town are close but scarcely intrude at all.
At the top is the equally beautiful Deepcut Cutting, a thousand yards long and up to 70 feet deep and shaded by mature trees which seem to almost meet overhead. The spoil dug out by the navies was transported to form a major embankment over Springs Lakes.
We stopped for lunch on the Aqueduct over the railway which is supposedly lead-lined and then stopped just beyond the Mytchett Canal and Visitors centre which seemed very busy as it was a bank holiday weekend. The banks are always shallow and one needs a long sturdy plank but it does stop walkers, of which there are many, fingering the boat and leering through the windows. We could have easily traveled further but we were expecting visitors the following day and the canal centre has plenty of parking and a wharf . We backed up in the morning and watered whilst we waited - there are not a lot of water points on the Basingstoke and they can be well hidden.
The remainder of the Basingstoke is just as pleasant - it is mostly tree lined but even when it goes through towns you seem to see the best of the houses with long gardens stretching down to the water. There are a few impressive bridges with considerable decoration like Queens Avenue bridge at Farnborough and some very low bridges (5ft 10inches) - we measured Corinna whose highest point is the tiller pin and found she was exactly 5ft 10 inches so we took the pin out under the bridges giving us a few more inches. As one travels across there are a number of large flashes, very silted up and not for navigation but very attractive changes to the trees. You pass close to Farnborough airfield, where I used to run the Met Office Remote Sensing Instrumentation Branch, but hardly notice it is there.
The banks remain shallow but there are some good wharfs in the middle of the town at Church Crookham, and shortly afterwards at the Fox and Hounds. The pub looks a bit run down now but a few years ago we had hilarious evening watching the Micron Theater Company put on their own play Beer Street. We also dropped off the dingy we had been towing since Mytchett - they had come up for the day and the outboard would not start and since they could not get any assistance on a bank holiday so we offered to tow them for the morning on a long line. We thought they were going to get a train or taxi back but we last saw then rowing into the distance.
We finally stopped at Winchfield where there is quite a large wharf/moorings adjacent to the canal company public car park. It is also only 100 meters from the Barley Mow which proved to have a good selection of real beers and to be popular with the locals which is always a good sign. There is also a station with walking distance which allowed our friends to get back home. Taxis seemed to be as rare as hens teeth on a bank holiday.
In the morning we went on the remaining few miles to the end of the canal. There is a very heavy and slow lift bridge to negotiate before you reach the winding hole which is still half a mile from the end of the canal at Greywell tunnel. They have stopped navigation with a boom at the winding hole.
We walked down the last stretch to the Greywell Tunnel, now full of bats so closed to navigation. The leaks from the chalk into the tunnel form one of the major water supplies for the summit. There is dramatic change in the water where boats stop moving - much clearer where you can see in but becoming clogged up with weed and other growth even this early in the year.
We then returned to Odiham where I was due met up for lunch with the members of my old Branch. They had suggest the Water Witch and we quickly discover why they had picked it - it does enormous and good meals from the bar and serves Gales HSB. We went back a second day! After the massive lunch and plentiful beer we only managed the short distance back to Winchfield to moor overnight.
We then spent a another day in the same area taking the chance to look round Odiham town and stock up befor mooring at Wilkies pool, not far from the edge of town. It was very quiet and we took he chance to saw up some wood for the stove and take Tigger for couple of walks - he is a Birman cat and really enjoys his evening walks on a lead and always seems to recognise when we are mooring rather than just pausing for locks. He is however becoming increasingly aware of dogs and rushes back and up the gangplank when he sees them coming.
It was then a short run to Winchfield to meet up with another visitor, who needed a car park for the day, when he joined us for the return across the "summit". The day was not quite as sunny but the scenery was still just as good in the other direction and we again admired the lovely riverside properties.
The bridges were just as low as the other way. Peter stopped on the exit from one and backed up to show how little clearance there really is. We had been taking the tiller pin off but it looks as we might have just made it through that one.
The twenty miles of "summit" is broken by one lock at Ash where there are some pleasant moorings and picnic tables. We saw few boats moving, perhaps three or four a day and the various moorings and wharfs never seemed to be full and often completely empty - it is a shame after all the work in restoration. It must come near the top of our list of canals and we will be making regular visits in the future.
Then one passes a number of flashes before meeting town again at Ash Vale. The flashes are all closed to navigation and are often very shallow but they add considerable character to the canal. They contrast with the many tree covered stretches.
We moored overnight at the Canal Centre - much quieter once the bank holiday was over - and gathered our strength for the two days down the locks. It was much quicker down as we were sharing, not following any boats and could work ahead both days - it almost halved the time and we not only cleared the Wey but got back up to Leylam the final day. A morning in Windsor was followed by the run up to Marlow where we moored on the recently done up Conservancy moorings just below the lock. They are by a quiet park and it seems than paying 5 pounds for the Town moorings by a busy park although the view is not so good. We had an early morning shopping trip leaving at 1100 for the long haul back to home for supper.
Peter and Pauline Curtis
Most recent significant revision: 13th October, 2003